5. The Best Resource Ever?


The Best Material Resource Ever?

There was a lot of talk in out first input session on defining what we mean by materials and examples of what materials are out there.  What struck me particularly was that there was very little mention of learners as materials. I kept thinking ‘What about the learners?’  If what they have to say and contribute can be used as the material then maybe we’re tapping into the most relevant, real world and communicative materials ever.  If materials are ‘anything that can be used to facilitate the learning of the language’ (Tomlinson 2012:143), then surely learners are materials? But during the session another teacher referred to mini-white boards as a material, and I started thinking about the difference between materials and resources.

My instinct on this is that materials provide input, whereas resources are what we use to explore, provide or generate input (which includes mini-white boards, Cuisenaire rods, IWBs, etc).  So does this make learners a material or a resource?

I’ve always referred in the past to learner as resource (see Observed Lesson 2 for example), but can what learners contribute be considered input?  In peer and teacher support such as scaffolding and reformulation, I believe so.  Beyond that, I’m not sure.  Maybe it depends on the individual learner and the level.

Food for thought.


Tomlinson, B. (2012) State-of-the-Art Article: Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching 45 (2): pp.143-179.


  1. Perhaps we can see materials as created and designed with particular teaching aims in mind. Resources are thus (as you suggest) whatever is used to provide input or stimulus – anything from an IWB to a pack of playing cards. By this formulation learners can be considered as a resource. I wonder what Sheelagh Dellar says in her ‘Lessons from the Learner’ (Pilgrims Longman Resource Books 1990)?

  2. That’s a nice way of differentiating between the two. I like that. So then Cuisenaire rods, IWB’s etc – having no specific teaching aims – are resources.
    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look her up.

  3. Hi Jade,
    Coincidentally, yesterday I started reading Teaching Unplugged by Meddings and Thornbury about Dogme ELT. In the book the authors advocate that teachers could work with “nothing more than the ‘raw materials’ provided by the people in the room.”
    According to this teaching philosophy, the learners could then be both materials and resources. I am finding the book very revealing and fascinating, and I would like to try to teach an unplugged lesson in in the future. Have you ever tried one yourself? If so, how did it go?


    1. Hi Andrea,

      Funny you should ask. On Friday I had my fifth teaching observation, which I called a Dogm-ish lesson…. -ish because although I wanted to let the learners determine the direction the lesson would take, I also wanted to use some particular visuals as a stimulus and see what happened. I didn’t have a plan as such, but I had brainstormed/mind-mapped some possible directions the lesson could take. In the lesson I found myself using some of these previously considered ideas, but also improvised a lot in response to the learners’ own comments – drawing on a repertoire of experience and activities, as it were. You can read more about the lesson here

      if you like (the password is different for my T&R posts – drop me an email and I’ll send it to you).

      I have done other ‘unplugged’ lessons in the past, though have usually drawn on some kind of stimuli for learners. I do intend to do another in the not too distant future in which I only respond to what the learners contribute rather than bringing anything in, and relinquish more control of the lesson to them.

      Have you read or heard much of what Adrian Underhill says about improvisation in the classroom? He makes some very good points about responding to learners – what we call ‘accepting the offer’ in the theatre world. I wrote some thoughts about a seminar he gave here


  4. Thank you, a very interesting discussion. I fully go along with the idea of learners as the most valuable ‘resource’ in any classroom but it takes an effective, capable and experienced teacher to get the best from them. This is why we get the lifejacket metaphor for the coursebook.

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